Trenton Merricks claims that truthmakers must be what truths are “about” in some unarticulated sense of “about”. He then argues against truthmaker-type principles by claiming that there are truths of various sorts for which his undefined aboutness criterion cannot be met.
In two of my last three posts I have criticized Merricks for leaving this vital piece of his argument undefined, and in my last post, I sought to rectify matters by presenting a criterion of aboutness for truthmakers:
A truth is “about” one of its truthmakers in the relevant sense if and only if (a) there exists something such that (b) full acquaintance with that thing and only that thing would enable one to know with certainty that the truth in question is true.
Now, I’m pretty sure that Merricks would reject my criterion, but until he shows me why its wrong I’m going to stick by it. What I want to argue in this post is that if one accepts my criterion of aboutness and if one accepts the necessary existence of an essentially omniscient God (as Merricks does), then Merricks’ main objection against truthmaker principles (that there are truths which are not about any truthmakers) fails. In particular, I consider negative existentials and truths about the past.
It is true that there are no hobbits. In virtue of what could this be true? Merricks considers the suggestion that the entire physical universe might make this true, but he argues against that suggestion. For one thing, it doesn’t suffice unless we posit a totality state of affairs, e.g., there being nothing more. Otherwise we could simply add a hobbit (and maybe a few other things) on top of the physical universe. But in that case the physical universe as it stands would not necessitate the truth of ‘there are no hobbits’ and so would not suffice to make it true. One wonders, though, what this totality state of affairs is supposed to consist in. It seems rather suspicious. Merrick’s chief objection, though, is simply to claim that ‘there are no hobbits’ is not relevantly about the physical universe.
I think Merrick’s is right that the physical universe by itself will not suffice without a totality state of affairs. And I agree that such a state of affairs looks unacceptably suspicious. But I don’t think he’s considered a plausible alternative truthmaker, one the existence of which he himself would seem to be committed to in virtue of being a theist, namely, God’s having a hobbit-free experience of creation. No extra totality state is needed here because God’s essential omniscience takes care of that. Nor could any theist reasonably dismiss this as unacceptably suspicious. And, moreover, by my aboutness criterion, this is a truthmaker for ‘there are no hobbits’ – thus, if we were fully acquainted with God’s experience of creation, we would be able to know with certainty that that proposition is true.
Truths about the Past
Merricks, like myself, is a presentist, someone who believes that only what exists now exists simpliciter. A common objection against presentism is that it lacks the resources to supply truthmakers for truths about the past. Merricks accepts the objection but denies its force. He claims that truths about the past aren’t relevantly about any presently existing things. And he argues that presentism is more plausible than any truthmaker principles, hence if the two conflict, it is the truthmaker principles that must go.
Against Merricks, I deny that there is any conflict between presentism and truthmaker principles. In a recently published paper, “Presentism, Truthmakers, and God” (available on my website), I argue in detail that God’s memories can supply truthmakers for truths about the past. Moreover, God’s memories satisfy my aboutness criterion – thus, if we were fully acquainted with God’s memories, we would be able to know with certainty that, say, ‘Caesar crossed the Rubicon’ is true.
I think similar options are available for the other alleged problem-cases that Merricks considers.
Moral: If you’re a theist, don’t bracket your theism when doing metaphysics. If God exists, he should be metaphysically relevant to (nearly) everything else.